Saturday, May 16, 2009

New MLA Handbook: Print. Print. Print. Print.

Ink asked an excellent question in the comments, so rather than hijack my own comments section, I'll write about it here:
I just heard about that yesterday and I don't really understand what is wrong with print being viewed as it not PC, somehow? I don't have the new version yet, so maybe it's explained in great detail.

Frankly, I just don't want to type "Print" a billion times on my Works Cited. Especially since we're all trying to go green and that just makes the bibliographies longer...sigh.
I hadn't thought about the longer bibliographies issue, but Ink is absolutely right. Maybe the MLA thinks that taking away its requirement for long URL citations will balance that out. The MLA giveth, and the MLA taketh away. And once the varieties of e-readers (Sony, Kindle, Kindle reader for iPhone, and the various tablet readers that are on the way) get involved, I suspect that the MLA Handbook, and our bibliographies, are about to get a whole lot longer.

The MLA thought (and still thinks) it was important to specify the database, so we all do that, even though it seems unnecessary if you're citing a .pdf version of a print journal. Aren't they photographically identical? At least in the new version, you don't have to specify which library site you were in when you accessed JSTOR or EBSCO, which is an improvement (See 5.6.4). I can also see the necessity of specifying "Print" for the sciences, since so much of what they do is online, or for specialists in digital media areas within the humanities.

But for plain vanilla literature and literary history people? How many of the books you actually use, including new books, are available in any complete form online? (I don't mean Google's book snippets; they don't count.) In my field, that figure is about 3 out of 100, and I've looked assiduously (,, books for the Kindle, etc.) to find books available in this form. Believe me, if they were available online, I'd be throwing money at them, since it would be so convenient to have them online.

Are there enough books online to justify this new MLA requirement of "Print" after what may turn out to be 97% of the books in a bibliography? What about the books you use; are they online enough to make this necessary?

[Updated to add: check out Ink's satiric post on this issue (link is above).]


Digger said...

Yes, a bibliography is so that folks can find your sources. But to give the web address of the online version of a real-life paper publication, published by a publisher (as opposed to gray literature)? Like a book or journal article? That's nuts. The equivalent would be to give the Dewey Decimal Code or OCLC number for print works you used "in paper form." Which, I note, they do not require.

Ink said...

Yay for talking about this (and I'm very glad you didn't think it was an idiotic question). :)

You raise an excellent point about percentages. And about pdfs technically being photographic duplicates (the whole reason for offering pdf format on databases in the first place, right?)!

I'm cool with specifying the database so that readers can locate the item, though I have *always* thought including the library and town and date of access was ridiculous...we don't have to say that about our books. Can you imagine? "Borrowed from Library on Saturday" or even "Bought on sale at Amazon! Score!"

I do think it's great that they are doing away with URLs after online sources. That will shorten the entries. But I still do not want to Print. Print. Print. Print.

Since MLA users can already tell just by format what kind of source something is (article versus book chapter, for instance), why not just change the category that doesn't let you see that as readily (i.e., database retrievals). Why go back and retag ALL of them? (And now I'm right back where I started. Sorry for the blather.)

Well, shoot. I was just getting used to MLA's LAST change for online stuff. Do other styles like APA and Chicago change theirs as much, I wonder?

Anyway, thanks again for raising this topic! Did you find out any other interesting things when you read your new handbook last night?

ps: "The MLA giveth, and the MLA taketh away" = brilliant line.

Tree of Knowledge said...

APA came out with a new edition a few months before MLA, mostly online citation stuff. It's like if one updates, they all have to. I think it's scam to sell more books. I'm editing a collection right now, and one of the first things we decided was not to mess with the new MLA. Like Ink, I'm glad to drop the URL, but "print" seems ridiculous.

And, by the way, my co-editor and I have been very hands-on (it's my first collection, but not hers) and reading your last post was gratifying.

undine said...

I'm with you, Digger. They don't actually ask for the web address, but they want you to specify that you found it at Google books, Web, etc.

Ink, your Amazon comment made me laugh--exactly! I could never figure out why MLA required you to tell which library you were using. Isn't JSTOR the same everywhere, barring different levels of subscriptions? I think that they required this because they didn't understand the concept of the Internet and were trying to extrapolate from the citation formats they'd made up in the old Silver Platter CD-ROM database days.

Tree, I think you're right: they probably all update together so that one won't seem to lag behind the other.

Ink said...

Oh my gosh, I forgot about Silver Platter! Remember there would be, like, four machines that had that installed at the library and a LINE of people waiting to use it? ("Back in MY day, you had to GO to the library to do your research, kids!")

Ink said...

Rather than hijack your comments any more, I took my grumblings over to my place. Somehow, they came out in the form of an anthropomorphic sketch. Hmmm. Maybe these changes really are making me crazy!

Bardiac said...


Digger said...

I've been thinking about this a lot since you posted, and just read Ink's take.

Yanno, perhaps they're anticipating the death of the library as a repository. Next update: Print, My Local Library, Dewey #. As though we were accessing archival material.


undine said...

Digger, I wish that you weren't right on this one, but I'll bet that some version of that will come to pass.